CASPER — Leave it to a former children’s TV producer, a rodeo clown and a former vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming to come up with a solution to reduce carbon dioxide in the air, improve soil health and increase climate awareness.
And Jeff Holder, Marvin Nash and John Robitaille have been doing that by getting folks in the energy and agriculture sectors together with environmentalists.
The trio aims to improve soil health, increase photosynthesis and put carbon back into the earth by connecting ranchers, farmers and private landowners. The vehicle for that eff ort is their nonprofit, Synergy For Ecological Solutions, in conjunction with the Carbon Asset network, a for-profit company.
“We’ve got a lot of people who want to do something, yet there’s really not a lot of things or (programs),” said Holder, the executive director and board member for Synergy.
Through a program called You360, private individuals — or what the trio call change agents — can sign up to donate $30 a month on a one-year basis to fund soil health projects.
While Holder acknowledged the work of protest groups and the green energy movement, he believes they have limitations. He believes his nonprofit can change the world.
Many range plants in the area can grow roots up to 24 inches, and by conducting yearly soil samples by hand, Synergy for Ecological Solutions can differentiate themselves from the pack, according to Robitaille, director of the Carbon Asset Network. The network works directly with Synergy for Ecological Solutions by connecting land stewards — namely private landowners — with change agents.
“If you think back to your early science days, you learned that plants use sunlight and water and pull carbon dioxide out of the air, convert that to a kind of a carbohydrate and then store that in the root system for new growth,” Robitaille said.
In Wyoming, the most active part of the soil is closest to the surface, according to Peter Stahl, professor of soil science at the University of Wyoming, who has been conducting soil research through the Mountain West and Midwest for many decades.
The biggest reservoir of carbon on Earth is in the soil, soil organic matter and soil organic carbon, and there is more carbon stored in the soil than there is stored in the atmosphere, Stahl pointed out.
“You can have a tremendous impact on carbon storage on the soil by how you manage the soil, but soils only have so much potential for carbon storage (based) on a given climate.”
But semi-arid climates like Wyoming do not develop soils with a lot of carbon in them compared to places where there is a lot more precipitation, Stahl said. Still, an impact can be made, but the process can be tedious.
“(For instance) the more you grow a crop of hay on the soil,” Stahl said. “When that crop dies, a lot of the above-ground, biomass or hay falls to the ground and gets incorporated into the soil that also decomposes into soil organic matter.”
Tristan Carpenter and her husband own acreage west of Casper and linked up with Synergy for Ecological Solutions three months ago after hearing about it through word of mouth.
They purchased a field that was overgrazed, compacted and outdated to own livestock, rope and enjoy the open space. Still, they felt a sense of responsibility in doing their part to improve the environment.
“Using the grazing and planting methods is very environmentally conscious,” Carpenter said. “And at the end of the three years, we’ll have a hayfield that will supplement the livestock that we have.”
Still, using unconventional ranching or farming methods can be financially out of reach for most, and there aren’t a lot of programs to help small landowners to the extent that Synergy for Ecological Solutions helps people, according to Nash, a special advisor for Synergy for Ecological Solutions and co-founder at Encore Green Environmental.
Nash said he never would’ve imagined that two weeks after helping launch Synergy for Ecological Solutions, they would already be working with over 100,000 acres.
In 1973, he gave a speech about conservation, soil health and land management at a Future Farmers of America event. Now, he feels like everything is coming full circle and wants to leave the world a better place for his kids and grandchildren.
“For us, every day is Earth Day,” Nash said.